Highland Council last week gave the green light to a scheme that allows walkers to access the summit of Cairn Gorm from the top station of the funicular.
Since opening in 2001 the Cairngorm funicular railway has operated as a 'closed' system, with a ban on public access from the top station onto the mountain in order to protect the fragile habitat from what some feared would be hordes of walkers. The system was a condition of the original planning consent for the development.
However the position softened over time, and guided walks from the funicular were run as a trial from 2010, branded Walk@TheTop.
CairnGorm Mountain Ltd, the company that manages the funicular and ski resort on behalf of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, then sought permission to continue the scheme on a permanent basis.
The decision to let this happen came on 15 May after Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) advised that there would be no adverse environmental effects. This assessment was made following three years of work to evaluate the potential impact of the scheme on the adjacent Cairngorms Special Protection Area (SPA), Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and National Scenic Area (NSA) – some of the largest European conservation sites in Britain.
SNH officers monitored two seasons of summer trials and organised a six-week consultation in late 2011 that included members of the public, local community organisations, Non-Governmental Organisations and a Public Agency. A total of 2174 walkers attended the 353 walks that took place during the trial periods, and everyone complied with the rule that they must return to the Top Station with the Ranger.
Under the new permanent Walk@TheTop walkers will be able to follow a circular route between the funicular Top Station and the summit of Cairn Gorm. Walks will be led by a Ranger and make use of the existing Summit and Marquiss Well paths. Walkers must still return to the Top Station with their guide. It's an odd arrangement in a country that allows unfettered public access to all open land - but it seems to be working for now.